Aquarius festival puts the spotlight on sustainable seafood
by Sara Krevoy
Jan 31, 2020 | 6133 views | 0 0 comments | 692 692 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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For the makers of farm-to-bar mixology event Secret Summer, Highlife Productions’ Tyler Hollinger and RAPT’s Andrew Maturana, seafood is the next hurdle in helping people navigate the often disorienting landscape of conscious consumption.

Saturday, the pair enjoyed the return of another successful production that brought hundreds of New Yorkers to The Foundry in LIC for a night of fun and fine dining from the sea.

Named after the constellation and 11th astrological sign in the Zodiac, Aquarius is the nation’s only festival dedicated to raising awareness about ocean charities and sustainable seafood.

The term deals primarily with the methods of farming and fishing behind the seafood that eventually ends up on our plates on the shelves of our supermarkets. This means choosing species that are not overfished or farmed in unsafe working conditions that create a harmful impact on the environment.

Hollinger does a lot of outreach to brands and companies in an effort to educate them about sustainability, and he’s found that most of the time reps don’t know what he’s talking about. The same is true of consumers, but the festival creators found that when you combine education with cocktails and a party, you grab people’s attention. And they say awareness has increased.

“It’s definitely a foodie-centric festival,” said Hollinger “but Aquarius is so much more than taking in information on sustainable seafood. There’s a lot going on.”

He wasn’t kidding. Aquarius is an immersive, multisensory experience complete with art, music, entertainment, food and drink. The festival spotlights local restaurants and chefs that use sustainable seafood, in addition to purveyors and brands that offer responsibly-sourced products.

Guests dined on dishes of local, sustainably farmed and fished like squid, scallops, oysters, clams, cod and mussels. Meals from around the world were prepared by Mattitaco, Ca’Pisci, MF Events and Houseman Restaurant’s Chef Ned Baldwin, who is also a fisherman.

Themes of responsible consumption permeated the festival’s libations as well. Farm-to-bar cocktails flowed, prepared with raw, in-season ingredients sourced from local acreage. Attendees sipped on the complementary cocktails while seated around outdoor fire pits and enjoying entertainment from live DJs, fire breathers, aerialists and the all-female Brass Queens.

Saturday’s event also featured an art installation by Jimmy Carillo.

For its third-annual festival, Aquarius partnered with Oceanic Global, a nonprofit that works to engage new audiences in ocean conservation efforts. Through its Oceanic Standard, the organization offers individuals and industries a comprehensive guide to practices that drive positive change for the environment.

The 39-page manual includes advice for reducing single-use plastics and other sustainable operating practices, as well as an extensive section on plastic straws.

Saturday’s festival did its part to implement these standards by facilitating a plastic-free event. CupZero provided guests with reusable cups to use throughout the night for a deposit of two dollars, which was reimbursed to those who returned them before heading home. The company also set up designated recycling bins throughout the space.

According to Hollinger, the majority of Americans only eat three types of fish: salmon, tuna and shrimp.

“People struggle to name any other kind of fish,” he says, “and because of that we have depopulated the nation’s rivers of those species.”

Factory farmed fish not only pollute seawater, inlets and bays with carbon emissions. The seafood produced by these methods is bad for your health too, as it often contains growth hormones and chemicals. Mercury levels in fish are a direct reflection on the environment in which they were raised.

“We shouldn't be supporting that,” Hollinger asserts, “and it starts with purchasing and consuming the right items.”

Maturana and Hollinger team up on smaller events as part of a sustainable dinner series called SShef. They are set to open up their own farm-to-bar cafe on the Upper East Side in June, which will offer a weekly salon series that introduces patrons to local farmers and purveyors for an exchange on healthy food trends and sustainable ingredients.
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